A trio of songs to seek meaning to

I dearly enjoy those pieces of art that eschew any obvious meaning or message. The ones that leave me questioning, the ones whose dominant emotion is a vague but powerful feeling of thoughtfulness, heartache, or wonder. The ones with no simple logic, and certainly no clear-cut explanation.

Art seen near the Lloyd Center in Portland.

Art seen near the Lloyd Center this summer in Portland. “In the Tree Tops” by Margarita Leon.

They are few and far between, but I live for them when I do find them, and for me, it’s usually those very feelings of abstract questioning that make this frustrating venture of creation, writing, and self-expression worthwhile in the end. I know my regularity of writing has been flagging lately, so I thought I’d do something special this week, in part because I’ve been needing to write more, and in part because I’ll be attaching my name and portfolio in applications to various cool potential employers this week, and I’d like for them to see me with my best foot forward, if and when they decide by some twist of good fate to explore this portfolio.

So, starting tomorrow and continuing through Saturday, I’ll be posting selected new video reviews to my music blog that I’ll share at some time in the course of each day. I’ve selected videos with a consistent theme, videos that impart a certain feeling of abstraction, bewilderment, and hopefully wonder.

#1 “Champagne Coast” is funky and delightfully weird, like nothing I’ve seen!

#2 Breathless ’90s life filtered through cameras fuels Semisonic’s “Secret Smile”

#3 This surprise music video for “Ooo” is simple, sweet, uncomplicated, and pure

The reality is that many of us are facing very challenging times. I read so much in news and social media about the extremes of income inequality, the steep challenges of prevailing institutional prejudice and division, the seemingly insurmountable challenges awaiting us due to climate change, wars that seem ongoing, and a false economic recovery that I, at least, have not yet significantly benefited from. But through the hardest of times, I’ve always felt that my personal brand of enjoyment often springs from those rare slices of ingenuity, those examples everywhere of the persistently creative, thought-provoking, and often frustratingly meaningless pieces of written and visual self expression. It’s this indescribable joy persistence that I admire, this unflagging hope, this willingness to strive quietly in spite of it all that I try never to leave behind.

It’s those instances we manage to make the time, in spite of the ongoing bustle of life so culturally obsessed with working really really hard and still just barely paying the bills, to escape for a bit and see what beauty and fascination the world has to offer, that I personally feel most satisfied. Nearly always it’s a matter pushing ourselves, of finding comfort in that state of holy discomfort, as someone I know so poetically put it recently, that reaps the most rewards. And it’s a something that I find myself having to consistently recommit myself to, with mixed results. But learning is in the doing, and joy is in the journey. So here goes.

Check out the cool videos I’ll be sharing in the next few days, starting tomorrow! I promise to do my best to show you things that will strike you as revelatory at best, and at least, confusing and weird but kind of thought-provoking. As always, thanks for reading, lovelies!

An Overhaul For the Music Blog

I’ve been wrestling with this sustained near-complete cessation of writing lately…It’s been a while! This writing break-time for me is drawing to a close, though, and as July starts, I’m re-committing myself to building more disciplined habits of writing, both online and off, and perhaps to submitting my ideas and my posts to publications that might be interested.

I’ve been enthusiastic and overjoyed to re-ignite my music blog, The Needle on Vinyl. It has always been a personal project, so far, and worth the experience of searching for great music and writing about it, and the elusive joy that has given me. I’ve always used proprietary photos pulled from Google and songs streamed via Spotify, and felt a bit sketchy about those practices. But, since I’ve always self-produced this endeavor on my own time and dollar I don’t feel terribly bad about that aspect of the project. At best, it’s essentially been a channel of free publicity for select musicians, and oftentimes for ones who hardly need the word-of-mouth… Not to mention that it’s also been a dearly-needed and valuable release of tension during the challenging time I had getting started in the Northwest. I’ve had fun with it, so I’ve decided to start it up again. For fun, mainly, though.

Launching today, I’ve totally refashioned the landing page, with a far more visually-grabbing look. Check it out, and check out my first new playlist, Hearts and St@rs, on the fully remodeled site, at www.needleonvinyl.wordpress.com.  Hope you like it, even you House-Music-Haters out there!

Love, life, tech, and scraping by in the Evergreen State

It’s been a few months since I posted here on my portfolio website, but there have been big developments in my life recently, so I thought it was time I wrote here again. Expect to read about some of my personal developments, other professional developments, and a few updates more frustrating and demoralizing, but still.

Unbelievable sunrise photo I took overlooking the Willametter River this spring.

Unbelievable sunrise photo I took overlooking the Willamette River this spring.

First for a piece of really cool news! I was invited to comment on a Huffington Post Live segment on Friday! An academic doctor (read… phd) and author named Emily Nagolski who I heard about on Twitter did an interview to promote her new book, “Come as You Are,” about how science can inform your sex life. A HuffPost producer had tweeted at me, wondering if I had questions, so I sent her three, and she got back to me saying I could ask one of my questions to Dr. Nagolski on their livestream if I wanted. It was a pretty cool experience, if a little bit cringe-inducing at times. The nearly hour-long segment included some pretty in-depth conversation about the mechanics of female sexuality, and for a naive nerdy guy like myself, I could barely contain my giggles at some of the things they talked about. I don’t show up in person until the end of the segment, but still. Check it out! Another blogger and I were in on a Google Hangout in the lead-up to the interview. I asked her about how a straight white male like myself, who wants to actively support feminists, ought to try to help the movement. She gave some really constructive answers, and seemed pleased to hear that I wanted to help.

Second, I’ve been suddenly swept away in a whirlwind romance! I met a beautiful and intelligent fellow Quaker named Marion, and we’ve been dating since February. It’s completely transformed my world. She’s intelligent, loving, supportive, and basically the best. You know that book “The Giver”, where a boy who grew up in a dystopian society suddenly is able to see the world in color? That’s what it’s like. Yesterday, after a Twilight Zone marathon and day-long Memorial Day date with her, we stepped out of my house and the world seemed bright and new and shiny and clean. It was sublime.

Third, more on my professional status. I am still looking for work. Safeway briefly moved me to the bakery, after working in their Starbucks kiosk for about six months, while supplementing my income overnights delivering the Oregonian. The Safeway bakery promotion was supposed to be a full-time gig, which was huge! Safeway Starbucks are bound by policy to only employ people part-time, meaning I could never have afforded their health plan. The brief glimpse of hope I had when I started working full-time in the bakery made me feel comfortable enough to wind down from delivering the Oregonian… but I was honor-bound not to just leave my news delivery job right away. Paper delivery people are supposed to give three weeks notice.

As it turns out, newspaper delivery, even for a great paper like the Oregonian, actually IS like a modern-day sweatshop job. On average, I made about $4-5 an hour and worked ridiculous long hours, nearly killing myself from overwork and fatigue. But if that was what it took to get started in the Pacific Northwest, fine. On the bright side, I did learn a lot about the news industry and about how these print newspapers manage to stay alive in the face of the merciless tech sector, where people  believe that information ought to be universally accessible free of charge, and what’s more, seem content to make deals with our government allowing the NSA access to ALL of it, with no concern for individual privacy. So, I worked 60-65 hours a week for an old-school print newspaper AND in the bakery for three weeks… and that was when my manager at the bakery took me off the schedule without a word of explanation. Once again, I was out to sea, thanks to lovely management! RARGH.

So I applied for a Starbucks job at the airport, and they offered 35 hours at Oregon minimum wage and benefits. Now I’m just desperately awaiting my background check to clear, so I can start making money and buying food with my own money again. In the meantime, let me know if you hear of any OTHER openings.

I’d been extremely excited about an application I’d sent to a Quaker advocacy organization in D.C. I thought the interview went really well. But I guess they decided to pay other people to work for them, and that they didn’t need another advocate for the environment in the Portland area. It really broke my heart, but at this point, FCNL could stomp me in the face with a steel-toed boot and I’d still think they are a better organization than half what I’ve seen in the D.C area. So I guess I’ll just have to deal with the disappointment… again.

The Northwest is so beautiful! I’ve taken some of the most stunning photography since moving here, and I love how accepting and inclusive the culture is here. Not only that, everyone here seems pretty tech-savvy. And that’s definitely cool, I think. I heard someone call us the “Silicon Forest.” That’s awesome. It’s about time that stupid famous Valley in California faces some real competition.

That’s all that I want to share right now! A friend who works for LinkedIn travelled north from the Bay Area to visit Portland yesterday, and that was pretty cool! I may be broke and likely to starve, but I’m happy! And who knows what life has in store for me next. Love and light, my family, mes amis, et tous les autres.

Leave our Journalists Alone!

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba'aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba’aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Long ago, I used to produce podcasts with my college radio station. Loved it. The attack this morning on a satirical publication in Paris called Charlie Hebdo had me thinking about the importance of journalistic freedom, and I wanted to put those thoughts into a podcast. (excuse a few hiccups, this is my first in a long time.) Holding in the light the victims’ families and their loved ones.

Music is “You Can’t Outrun the Radio” by Jonathan Byrd. Support good musicians, buy the album!

[transcription below]

I’m not really a journalist. No one pays me to report news, to ask tough questions, write articles and editorials, or keep deadlines. I have known people who are light-years better than I am at that game and have been doing it for years. Me, I managed to write a community newspaper in a poverty-stricken community for three months, and did student news for a bit. I’ve long fancied myself a journalist at my core, but I’m too shy, and intimidated by the standards and sheer output required by professional journalists. If anything, I’m a two-bit blogger and perpetually under-employed hack who writes as much as he can in his free hours. But damned if I don’t respect the real deal: the ink-stained truth-seekers with one hand on a pen and paper and the other on a bottle of stiff liquor, the tellers of true tales and chasers of horrifying realities in far-away lands, where the wars never seem to come to an end, whose role is to convey that to us civilians on our couches at home.

If you’ve known me a while, you know I used to do radio. These were in the starry-eyed days of college, before my reality came spinning apart. This’ll be the first time I’ve produced a radio piece for many years, and it feels good to be recording my voice again. It’s symbolic, really. Like, I’m officially reclaiming my voice again by recording it and streaming it into the aether. Best of luck to you, voice!


But, right now, it feels pretty important. There was an attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo this morning. This, coming off a year of executions of journalists, suppression of free speech, and countless lost lives in pursuit of the right to making unheard voices heard. It feels like where we in the U.S. have declared “War” on concepts as diverse as drugs, terror, and communism, folks elsewhere have taken up arms against expression.

It’s probably just the fact that I’m an absolute media junky, lost in the meandering corridors of the web, but events like this seem to blur together. I’m the modern equivalent of a HAM radio operator with aluminum foil on my head, tracing one conspiracy disaster after another from the safety of my home. But, the right to express myself freely is a pretty big deal to me, and these clear and explicit attacks on that right are far from victimless. I do not believe that violence creates productive solutions, and it is so many light-years away from my conception of religion that I can hardly even conceive what might inspire an attack like this. However juvenile the piece of writing, and whatever the depths of poor taste these writers’ jokes may have explored, no way is it worth shooting up the place. My feeling is that faith is a thing of joy and gratitude and peace. And something is awry if faith results in persecution, division, or subjugation. I’ve been through some tough stuff, and faith is what carried me through that. Never, ever, ever would I want my religion to justify brutality, even when the media can get pretty offensive.

[While studying at journalism school in Kansas, I had some experience with religious extremism.] Boasting a long history of radical politics, Kansas today is moving toward the reactionary. One of my interviews [as a student journalist] was with the guy behind a display of 20-foot-tall dead aborted fetuses. Turns out this guy was not a raving nutjob, much to my surprise and chagrin. We had the stations of the cross acted out on campus, we had evangelists screaming guilt-trips at students on the regular. Not only that, we were a mere 30 minutes away from the ultimate test of free speech, the Westboro Baptist church, only half an hour away in Topeka. Mind you, these guys have values that are about as far away from my own as it is possible to be. But grudgingly, I’ll give them their ten minutes to spit vitriol in the public space. I do have beliefs of my own, but I am also a huge believer in the power of the public forum. I have been told that that makes me ideologically cowardly. Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as being open-minded. You of course, can say and think what you want about me. I’ll do the same. Only I’ll try to be polite.

Later on, in Georgia, I was asked to say a few words at a community ribbon-cutting for refugees from Darfur that I was reporting on. Seriously, though, can you believe that? I was writing an article on the event, and had the proceedings translated to me by a friend. It was one of the greatest honors I’ve had, thinking back on it. And I remember, my speech was awful. I said the first words that came to my mind, something garbled related to making people’s voices heard. A simple enough concept. But, then again, not simple at all. Folks from Darfur in the U.S. experienced diaspora, or a forced migration and loss of a historic homeland. They described it to me as a feeling of restlessness, of deep sadness, and loneliness in the face of an unknown future. A loss of identity. A loss of cultural agency, and ultimately a shattering of community. I’ve been thinking about it, and I feel like that parallels what we’re facing here with the attacks in Paris. These attacks make people fear to speak their minds.

A friend’s son [had a close friend who] was taken captive in Yemen. He was a journalist, and I recently found out that he lost his life. Eleven more people lost their lives today. More than that, they lost their futures, their stories, their identities, their cultural agency. I may not be a real journalist, but I hold most dearly and close to my heart, the right, privilege, and responsibility, to express who I am, and to do so even when who I am, and what I believe, is less than popular. So, I’m gonna say it once, and I’m gonna say it a million times: Leave our journalists alone.

Thanks for listening,


Committee to Protect Journalists is a great organization working to protect journalists’ safety and freedom of speech around the world. Here’s a some information they put together on journalists killed around the world in 2014.

Also, check out this defense of satire by former Onion editor Joe Randazzo. He says, “The most responsible thing we can do is be aware that the most likely threat to freedom will now come from within. We cannot, should not, police our own thoughts – or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. Because the First Amendment does not just protect our free speech; it protects all expression, including religion.”

Stand Your Ground and the Call to Solidarity

I know I’m not the only one feeling it. That profound pain, disbelief, grief, outrage, horror, and shock at the depths to which  our society has run off the rails. To many, it feels like powerlessness, or fear of looking the problem in it’s eye. For others, it feels like the logical continuation of a life already lived in ever-present fear. I tend to process things through music, so I’m attaching a video below that really hit close to home for me. Recorded by hip-hop artist J. Cole four days after the shooting of Michael Brown, “Be Free” was an extremely powerful piece of music that sampled a CNN interview with witness Dorian Johnson, and was a song I listened to on Soundcloud over and over again while the protests raged in Ferguson this summer.

The video pairs that haunting song with images and clips of police brutality, interlaced with statistics on racially biased police brutality, and images of the protests throughout the U.S. in the last few months. It’s a stirring video, and heart-wrenchingly appropriate today, as protesters and families of victims converge in Washington D.C. for the “Justice for All” march,  organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Like others, I’m struggling with the feeling of being a spectator. I want to do something. Anything. I want to help the effort. I want to somehow ease some of the pain. But as I was reminded this morning, right now what is really essential is to continue to listen and to engage. I feel that is likely the best, right now, that someone in my position can hope to do.

There’s a tempting simplicity to the thought of flipping over the front page of my newspapers so I don’t have to see what new horrifying headline is popping up daily, or to scroll down in my internet news feeds, to try to work and play and go on like nothing new was there. But even if we tried to ignore it, the tragedy of it will continue to glare back at us, like a beast from behind the mirror. It would be easier not to talk about it. But it MUST be talked about.

When protests ignited this summer shortly following the shooting death of Mike Brown, startlingly close to where I lived in Illinois,  part of me wanted to up and go to Ferguson. I said the same to a photographer of our local newspaper who was working on a project about Ferguson. Journalists there had their hands bound with plastic, and I was hearing a lot of disgust that the protesters and rioters were mostly outsiders; that the damage from the riots was harming the Ferguson community, and that fires and shooting had even closed the St. Louis airport.

I deliver newspapers overnight as a second job nowadays, which has given me lots of late nights in my car listening to the radio while I drive through the neighborhood my routes are in. This morning I happened to tune into a show on the Portland community station with a few young white people my age trying to sort through the issues at play in these protests. It was hard to listen to at times, and certainly not an easy subject to tussle with. But it was comforting to me to hear other young people my age talk about it on a public forum, and to open it to callers.

They expressed many of the feelings I share: Frustration at attending march after march, and protest after protest, and not seeing concrete results. Wrestling to check our privilege and own that we, as white people, don’t truly understand what communities of color are experiencing. Hunger for some kind of change, but uncertainty as to what it will amount to. All that, and a good deal of outrage at the idea of a “colorblind” culture, and rejection of the emergence of All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter.

So I called the radio line, and spoke briefly with them. It was good just to speak to others who felt the same way I do. They, like I, want to support the communities that are pushing to make their voices heard, while treading the delicate line of learning to listen and teaching ourselves when not to speak. I don’t know what my place is in this movement, but I want it to be grounded in a place of solidarity, not privilege. I want to encourage voices like that of J. Cole, and that of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, whose passionate preface to a show in St. Louis recently also ranks, for me, among the most emotionally poignant listening out there on the subject of police brutality, racism, and the current protests. I think the best thing that I can do right now is open my ears, not my mouth. Listen, closely, to what these voices are saying about how life is experienced today by people of color in the U.S.

The deaths of these men has brought us to our knees, and chilled us to our bones. We’re now incarcerating more black men than any other subgroup in America, and the wealth gap by race is greater in America today then in South Africa during apartheid. Check out this article by Nick Kristof for more (and regardless of your take on his politics, it’s hard to argue with the numbers he’s giving us.) There’s a breakdown in the justice system, that no one seems to know how to fix.

Most importantly, I think that we shouldn’t fear what might happen, and what we might find out, when we do open ourselves up to these voices. Coming to terms with privilege and institutional racism is not supposed to be easy, finding the strength to address it will be even less so. But don’t let that cause you to shut down. I felt so much healthier this morning when I spoke what I was feeling, to someone, anyone, even the young people sitting in a radio station somewhere, and allowed myself to make mistakes and then correct myself, and opened myself to learning a few things.

These times are scary, but I think what we are seeing in the U.S. right now is a call to challenge ourselves. The movement is growing. And know that it’ll be a struggle. But, know that you’re not alone.

To Portland!

The City of Indie Dreams

The City of Indie Dreams

The one thing in my life that I fear losing more than anything else is my starry-eyed naivete and idealism. These qualities of mine approach but do not quite ascend all the way to empty-headed idiocy I hope. I love so much my hunger for new experiences, and my youthful belief in the idea that anything is possible. There have been times in the last few years that I have succumbed to fatigue, frustration, and a jaded approach to life that threatens to limit and contain my ambitions. Even when I was working long hours and living almost entirely on Mt. Dew and Thai food just to support myself, in my own hometown, and even when I was running cars back and forth from the parking garage and having my ears screamed off by Ethiopian valet parking managers, I tried my best not to retire my ambition to make a difference with my writing. I tend to run with the activists and the protestors, the hackers and the outcasts, and the people who just can’t seem to fit in with mainstream society. I think we all succumb to those feelings of depression and defeatedness some days. It is pretty frustrating that I am about to reach the twenty-seventh year of my life and I still haven’t nailed down a job that sustains me and gives me joy for the long-term. But hell, what more is there to this world than to throw ourselves into as many awkward situations as we can, see what works, then stick with it!

There is a difference between “responsibility,” as we boring bespectacled adults love to say all the time, and letting the tired, overwhelmed, droopy-eyed resignation of “I can’t change anything anyway,” take over your psyche. I understand that my friends and colleagues probably get frustrated that I’m easily distracted and that I like to have about 1100 things happening at once at any given time, and because I participate in protests and marches and activism and because if I’m not careful I communicate my daily plans less than perfectly. An older friend of mine once told me that employers are looking to hire people that make their lives easier and won’t be “brilliant but problematic geniuses.” I understand that… the need for efficiency, for your team to function like a well-oiled machine, and the need for the final product, whether it is an election win, a new product, or a public awareness initiative, to be pretty and clean and appealing to the masses. But damn it all to hell! I’ve tried for years and years for to be so clean and appealing and pretty, and it doesn’t seem to be working.

One thing I DON’T want my life to be is boring. I want to follow my flights of fancy, and explore the deepest corridors of possibility. I want to make things that are new and weird, and I want to be pushed way way beyond the realms of what is comfortable and into the world of the uncomfortable. If Jacques Cousteau could wrap himself in a hunk of iron and plunge to the depths of the deepest ocean, and Phillipe Petit could walk a tightrope extended between the Twin Towers in New York, and Jack Kerouac could write a book on a scroll while hitchhiking across the U.S. with his friends, think what I could do!!! A friend of mine just recently set off on a cross-country bike trip and is planning to go all the way to California and south into Mexico. On a bike. I’m still pretty young, and I’ve done some pretty amazing things. Seeing thee National Championship in Atlanta and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lollapalooza, and driving a pair of Bentleys and three Jaguars in one day, and competing with high school friends in a martial arts tournament in Cancun, and exploring Paris and Bourdeaux and Tel Aviv for god’s sake. It’s a heck of a life I’ve lived in the last twenty-seven years.

As I’m getting ready for my seventh annual Indian food dinner to celebrate another birthday, I find myself chomping at the bit to get out there and start living again. Don’t get me wrong, I love my little Southern Illinois hometown. We have the best peaches (sorry Georgia), the cleanest lakes, the most beautiful night skies (though Kansas does have us beat when it comes to sunsets), and more than our share of friendly people and challenges as well. I’m not an an organizer with the Democratic Party right now because I went to get coffee and read a book during lunchtime on a Saturday without telling him, instead of canvassing the very same neighborhood I had already canvassed earlier this same summer, to ggain support for a General, who I hadn’t even met! And that was two months before we were even going to need to vote! And after having been trained for 60 hours in the past week! Maybe it’s just me, but something about that seems a teensy bit odd.

What’s so frustrating to me about the real-life world of politics is what it does to you. It was happening to me within one week. My ego was swollen, I was treating my oldest family friends really terribly because of my “high and mighty” position (which I had just started), and I got kind of rude and self-absorbed. I’m usually a pretty nice guy, though I’ve recently been trying to be more self-confident and assertive so people don’t walk all over me all the time. But as soon as I was given a position of high responsibility, and found myself working for a Congressman, suddenly everyone was beneath me. That’s not who I am! I like the side of me that is artistic, and sensitive, and creative, and a little broken. I’m kinda proud to have been obsessed with independent artists like Pavement and the Pixies for much of my youth, and I’m VERY proud of the hard work and time I devoted to learn French in college with absolutely NO IDEA how it would factor into my career.

I don’t know where it is I’m going to settle, and god knows whether I’ll ever be able to stop embarrassing myself in front of people I’m trying to impress and saying weird things all the time that seem hardly explicable. But God, I just have to be able to love myself, and whatever it is I do end up doing, I know it’ll have to fill at least that criteria. So, my plan now is to chase down a job opportunity to help fight to close loopholes allowing companies to pollute a pair of rivers on the West Coast, in Portland. Who knows what will happen or what it’ll be like. I don’t even know yet where I’m going to live. But as a close friend once told me, life is an adventure. We’re only here for a little while, and the way I see it, our most important responsibility is to make our dreams a reality. So here we go! Let’s do this!

Home again!

I moved back to Carbondale, IL, the place I am proud to call my hometown, at the beginning of the summer, and it’s been a pretty great summer… probably the best that I’ve had for a long time! I spent much of my time applying to nearly every business in town that I know of, but nobody wants to hire me (except one Asian bistro in Marion, and the work environment there was no fun). This place has been so kind to me, and I love my friends here so much! They’re there for me, no matter what I’m going through, and I feel closer to them than to anyone. Even when my parents wouldn’t let me live in their home, my friends were there for me, and I always know that their doors are open to me, and that means so much. I’ve been working non-stop since I graduated, trying to support myself, and it’s not easy out there, particularly in this post-recession world.

This is the first summer since 2009, which I spent living with friends in their duplex outside Lawrence, that I’ve had entirely my choice of what to do with my time. It’s liberating! I have been able to practice guitar, polish my websites, play sports with friends here in Carbondale, and process more deeply my experience in Atlanta. It’s been a summer of action, a summer of surprises, and rest, and growth. I watched the World Cup from the food court at SIU, where it was convenient for me to camp out with my computer and bum the free Internet they provide. Those German football players sure were cruel! But that’s not too surprising: after all, they’re only Germans. And I had really been pulling for the home team! They sure would have loved that win. And now, come to find out, their longtime rivals Argentina are bankrupt!

The conflict in Israel-Palestine has ignited again, though, and I was not particularly surprised to find myself pinned between the two sides of the ongoing conflict. Older activists I’d met in Atlanta were vocally supportive of Palestine, and many of my good friends and housemates in the QVS house had studied the conflict there as well, and shared with me what they had learned. My friend Liz had even travelled to Ramallah in the early months of the summer! When the tensions escalated, I was so grateful that she had made it home when she did, and wasn’t there when things got bad. I think pretty often about my trip to Israel, and it informs the way I think about world issues to this day. When I was there, I met soldiers, and I saw Jerusalem, and I visited the cemetery at Mt. Herzl, and I saw the grave of my hero Hannah Szenes, and it really was a significant experience for me. There is one thing I do know. The idea that bombs dropped by drones will solve this issue is just stupid.

An image of Hannah Senesz, a Jewish poet and writer, pulled from RedHairCrow.com.

An image of Hannah Senesz, a Jewish poet and writer, pulled from RedHairCrow.com.

My education really was a good one, though I have struggled for so long to find good paying work. I got to visit France, and I visited Israel, and I Iearned so much about myself and about the U.S. For someone who could never have had higher education if it weren’t for scholarships and loans, due to my parents’ financial situation, it means so much more. I was challenged there, and forced to reconsider my preconceptions of the world, and I met people from around the world. I won’t say that it was a perfect education, but I had a pretty great foundation, both in high school and it KU. And now, my high school friends are finding such great success in their chosen fields, and though I am a bit jealous of them, I’m finding now that I know at least someone in cities throughout the U.S., and even throughout the world, who I still try to maintain contact with.

I am sad to leave behind my friends in Atlanta, but we made some awesome memories, and we lived and loved and struggled and worked, and that’s what life is all about. I’m sure I will get to visit them again sometime soon, and I’m sure that our story is just beginning. I mean, just thinking of the experiences we shared there fills my heart with warmth! I know many of them have moved far away, and I miss them, but that’s part of life. And I know man of them will probably stay in Atlanta for the long term, and settle down, and may change completely before I ever hear from them again. But, honestly, we don’t always get to be near the people we love. In this new, globalized age, it’s really not too hard to contact anyone, though. If anything, I think I am a little bit overeager to stay in touch with people.🙂 I get the sense it starts to get annoying to the really busy, hardworking ones. 

Well, that’s all! Off to Bum’s Beach for a quick swim! Peace and love, y’all.

My thoughts about what’s happening in Israel

In the past several days, peace activists in Boston, Atlanta, here in downtown Carbondale, and elsewhere have gathered to mourn and pray for peace, and to protest the killing of more than a thousand Palestinians, the bombing of a hospital, not to mention the blockading of supplies and forced settlement of Palestinian lands. These actions for peace by my friends here in the U.S. give me hope in the face of the pain and violence I see in the news.

After working in a tiny town in the outskirts of Atlanta called Clarkston, the location of resettlement of refugees from around the world in the mid-’90s, for the non-profit organization CDF, I learned and still believe that building connections across faith, cultural, and political divides is the only way to heal and repair long-term conflicts.

While there, I attended meetings of the Clarkston Interfaith group– a group comprised of people from many faiths and political backgrounds. We would sit together, talk, and learn about each other’s traditions and beliefs. As a result, I have many friends with varying political and faith perspectives, and friends on both sides of the conflict. The escalating violence in Gaza and the West Bank undertaken by the Israeli army is very painful for me to see. I personally met Israeli soldiers when I traveled there, and they were very kind, decent people.

Escalation of violence in Israel is not a productive course, and my support for a government that continues to betray the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in spite of calls for peace by Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is admittedly difficult to defend. The State of Israel is losing support internationally, as was made obvious by the mass protests last weekend in the streets of Paris, where protesters threw tarmac at French police.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was a great example of people bridging a seemingly impossible historic chasm of oppression, abuse through conversation and shared experience. While I continue to support the State of Israel, I cannot support many of its actions: the blockading of necessary resources from Palestinian families, forced settlement of Palestinian lands, construction of walls and transportation checkpoints, and the killing of civilians and children in response to Hamas’s aggression.

The way I see it, peace can be reached in this conflict if both sides are willing to meet with each other as equals in an environment of mutual respect and discuss conditions of a long-term ceasefire. That is the only way I’ve seen such conflicts resolved. It must be deliberate, it must be reasoned, and it must be non-violent. I pray that this will be possible, because I do not want to see another person die.

“House,” and the value of music mentoring

There is something so utterly innocent, beautiful and inspiring about this video, that it brings tears to my eyes just to think about. We begin with a monologue by UK artist Kindness, seated and addressing the camera initially with a brief discussion of “pop music.” He is dressed in a minimalistic black suit and long hair, and asks us “Why do adults resent [pop music] so?” he asks. “And why do I like it?” Kindness is struggling to understand the joy and frustration that he draws from pop music, in all it’s mysterious, shining inconsistency and occasional brilliance and joy. Pop music has been frustrating intentionally subversive, and derided or misunderstood by older people since its birth. I am speaking especially of the 20th century, and particularly referencing Beatlemania.

In this video, Kindness is seated alongside two keyboards and a drum machine, with a child named Ramon. The first half of the video shows the two of them playing and experimenting with the instruments. They talk, test their instruments, and experiment with the fascinating sounds that they can make. Together they try to recreate the sound of Kindness’s most popular song, “House.”

About halfway through the video, another musician joins them, and soon they are making music, dancing around the room and celebration the feeling of the music, and the spirit of experimentation and freedom licensed to people when they are free to test themselves creatively, and test what can result from uninhibited collaboration and self-expression. Their dancing communicates pure joy and youthful celebration, and it is one of the cutest things you can hope to see.

What I love most is that this video pairs the hopefulness and vibrancy of the song “House”, which is a warm and gentle plea for love in the face of desperation, with the innocence and simplicity of a music lesson on video. “I can’t give you all that you need/ But I’ll give you all I can feel,” goes the chorus of the song, and this line, to me, lies at the core of this video’s genius. Music is such a pure and universal expression of one’s feelings, and it appeals to every person, regardless of background. Given access to an instrument, or a studio, and a good teacher who can provide proper motivation and encouragement, any person can create something unique and beautiful that reflects their indelible individuality and humanity. This video demonstrates just such loving and nurturing support for individual creativity, a thing that is rare in most educational settings, and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

When the two try to describe the sounds of the track, they struggle to find the words for the sound they are creating. Adjectives like “muddy” and “scrambled” emerge in their conversation… but in fact the feelings associated with their music is impossible to describe. The effect of good music is that it eludes description, and can hardly be captured in words. Kindness can only have created the sound we hear by testing and experimenting with the equipment and instruments, and only with the guidance and training of a previous mentor, just as he is mentoring this child.

To me, this is what makes music so precious… it is the collective story of people, passed down from person to person, through the decades, centuries, and millennia. We have been recording music with our guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, and microphones, turntables, and computers in recent years, but people have been strumming and dancing and testing sounds and harmony and lyrics, expressing the human experience in sound, since the beginning of recorded history. It is the lifeblood of personhood, and it is infinitely precious. What I love so much, is that this video manages to encapsulate that experience. Kudos to Kindness, this video is brilliant.

Kindness in Sound